Eulogy for my Father

by cindy

E. Burl Randolph

April 16, 1920-January 27, 2018


The walls of my studio are peppered with notes—all sorts of quotations from different writers and thinkers and people whose words I admire.

This collection of thoughts began years ago, long before computers and their overwhelming access to information. I remember being in our local library and stumbling upon a poem by Nikki Giovanni. The poem was titled “The Women Gather”. It spoke to me in such a way that I immediately searched my wallet for a quarter, located the library’s xerox machine, and copied it. I held onto that photocopy until it eventually found its spot on one of those walls.

Every so often I would pause on my way in or out of the room just to read it. I knew the time would come for me to share a small part of it. That time is now.

“we judge a man by his dreams

 not alone his deeds

we judge a man by his intent

not alone his shortcomings

we judge a man because it is not unusual

to know him through those who love him

. . .

it is not unusual 

to sift through ashes

and find an unburnt picture”


It is for those of us here today that I would like to share some stories—a few scraps of that “un-burnt picture”. Most of these are stories I learned in my conversations with Dad before his dementia denied access.


1924. Commercial radio had been developed and made available to the masses just in time to bring the sounds of political conventions nominating candidates for that year’s presidential elections.

Our grandfather, Dad’s father, had purchased the first—and only—radio in the Lost Creek/Rockford/Jane Lew WV area. On the evening of the Democratic Convention (which ended in the nomination of one John W. Davis of Clarksburg WV, who went on to lose to Calvin Coolidge), Pops sat the radio on the ledge of their back porch. Beyond, on the grassy lawn, crowds of local residents (with hooch likely being surreptitiously passed around) gathered to listen to this historic event. Live. For the very first time.

My father would have been four. His memory, as he shared it with me, was of the following morning when it fell to him to scour the grass, collecting all the cigarette and cigar butts. Was he given an allowance, I asked? “Oh, hell no,”he answered. “We always had chores to do and that one was mine.”

. . .

Dad’s father, our “Pops,” was a very quiet man. As we grandchildren were growing up, he rarely had much to contribute to a conversation. I later learned, however, that in his younger years, he was a member of a men’s vocal quartet—The Lost Creek Quartet. Not the barbershop type, but this was a group that sang here and there for one occasion or another. Sometimes Dad, who had a wonderful voice, would be asked to substitute.

On one such occasion, a young teen-aged Dad joined the quartet to sing at a funeral. He sat with the men, waiting for their time to perform. And as he sat, he began to think about—as he put it to me—“that poor, poor man, cold and dead and laying there in the casket.” The longer they waited, the more miserable Dad felt until, just as the group began to sing, he burst into tears. Unable to quell his blubbering, he remained standing, sobbing loudly, much to the mortification of all involved. It was quite a long time before he was asked to sub for a funeral again.

Years later, he was asked to sing at another funeral, though this time he was to sing a solo in honor of one of his high school friends, a World War II pilot [Jimmy Allman] who was killed in battle. Dad returned from medical school in Baltimore to the small church in Lost Creek where he performed what later became Becky’s “favorite” song, My Buddy. Difficult as it was, a more mature Dad was able to keep himself composed. No tears fell this time.

. . .

We are all familiar with the miniature houses Dad made. Some are on display here today. This late-life talent caught us a bit by surprise, although it probably shouldn’t have. After all, years ago in the early 50’s, Dad had constructed a miniature western fort from wooden matchsticks while he was stationed in Philadelphia on Naval duty. That fort fascinated each of us especially once it claimed its spot on the elaborate model train display he also created in our Duff Avenue home. Later, he repeated his work with matchsticks by creating a miniature replica of Fort New Salem, which he then donated to the foundation which oversees the property.

Dad had shown creative tendencies much earlier, however, as I discovered when he shared his story of his first car. He managed to acquire a 1929 Model A Ford which he tinkered on until it once again was in good running order. Then, he decided he’d rather have a truck.

Using steel chisels, he removed the rumble seat (you younger ones are just going to have to Google that) and added enough bits and pieces to turn the car into a pickup truck. I have no idea what his dates may have thought. I asked him. He wouldn’t say.

. . .

Though “just a kid from Lost Creek” (as Dad would call himself), he did manage an adventure or two during his life. For him, travel started earlier than most in those days. Having been named the “4-H Healthiest Boy in WV” as a high school student, he traveled by train to Chicago for the National 4-H Convention.

I can only imagine the look on his face when he arrived in that huge city. It was, he told me, the first time he had ever left the state. It certainly was not the last. Medical school and training and his time in the Navy also took him beyond those borders.

More importantly he and Mom traveled extensively, always at her urging. For each trip abroad, Mom kept a small journal—filled with bits of information usually about the meals they had eaten. Some of her comments about Dad however, who was not the most relaxed traveler out there, were particularly amusing. For example, this notation from their 1989 trip to Australia,

“And furthermore, while Burl was watching a boomerang demonstration 

he neglected to duck and the boomerang hit him right in the throat—left

a purple bruise.”

Or this one from their 1998 river cruise in Europe,

“Burl’s coat buttons set off the security check at Benedum (Airport) and

he left the (plane) tickets in the bucket so the fellow had to run out on

the field after him. Then he set of the alarm in Newark and this time it

was his tin knee.”

Or in Alaska, 1997, 

“…knocked over a rum drink right into Burl’s lap, wearing the outfit

he plans to travel home in tomorrow…”

As stressful as it may have been, his travels gave him time with Mom and he would do anything to make her happy.

. . .

I treasure the stories he shared with me over these past few years. His history is our history. I found great joy in being given glimpses of both our parent’ lives. I enjoyed finding ways to see them as they were, not just as they appeared to me in that parent-child way.

Perhaps that is why I was drawn so many years ago to the poem I mentioned earlier. There are many “unburnt pictures’ of Dad. There are images we haven’t always had the opportunity to see.

My father was many things. He had his dreams. He had his passions. He had his intentions. He was a pillar of this community. He was a dedicated physician. He was a leader in organizations committed to helping others. He was dedicated to the teachings of his church. He loved the land and spent hours in his gardens. He loved to sing. He loved our mother beyond words. He was a gentleman. He was generous. He was exacting.

And at times, he was a difficult man.

Yet. Yet, he taught us many lessons. He taught us how to lose as he clobbered us regularly in croquet there on the upper lot. He taught us how to ride our bikes mostly by taking us to the top of a hill and letting go. He taught us to swim in a similar way. He taught us to curse like sailors, that blood is thicker than water. He made us more responsible adults. He made us fiercely loyal to each other. He taught us the importance of effort. He taught us the importance of honesty. He taught us the importance of integrity. He was complicated, but at his core, he was a good man.

He was our dad.

To my brothers and sisters, please know that before the stresses of life began to crush him, our father was the one who tucked us in at night. He read us stories and taught us our prayers. And he sang us songs, from hymns to Christmas carols to Danny Boy.

I choose to remember Dad singing and I imagine that he is singing now, with Mom once again assisting him on the piano. Pam will be sitting in a corner, quietly listening and reading a book.

Charles Wright wrote this in his poem “Flannery’s Angel,” which, yes, is also pinned to my studio wall.

“Lead us to those we are waiting for,

Those who are waiting for us.

May your wings protect us,

May we not be strangers in the lush province of joy.”

I hope that Dad is now in that lush province of joy, reunited with our sister, and with our mother, his enduring love. 

Let us hope he is at peace.

Let us hope he is content.

Let us hope he is happy.

. . .

Delivered June 24, 2018


For more about my father, consider reading this and this.